- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Even if you’re not old enough to remember the Jim Stafford song from the 1970s, you probably don’t like coming in contact with creepy critters like spiders and snakes. Knowing there are only two venomous spiders and six venomous snakes in North Carolina usually doesn’t help, so let’s take an objective look at the snakes we share this corner of the state with and see if we really do have something to fear.
The book will tell you we have copperheads, cottonmouths, timber rattlers, pygmy rattlers, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and eastern coral snakes in southeastern North Carolina.
Two of these venomous snakes are on the endangered species list because of loss of habitat—the eastern diamondback rattler and the eastern coral snake. Even though the coral snake has the most powerful venom, no human bites have ever been recorded in the state because of its low numbers and shy nature.
About the only snake on the list that you’re likely to encounter is the copperhead. Copperhead venom isn’t very toxic but they do like to hang around some of the same places people do.
We at the Cooperative Extension are often asked to identify snakes. The basic fear of snakes makes most people immediately assume every snake is poisonous. Luckily, more than 90 percent of the snakes we are asked to identify are one of the 31 non-venomous species, usually black racers, corn and rat snakes.
If you haven’t gotten up close and personal with a copperhead lately, here’s how you can identify them. Copperheads are heavy-bodied snakes with dark brown, hourglass shaped crossbands on a light brown to gray background. The belly is a mix of white and black markings. Baby copperheads look like their parents but have yellow or green tails that they wiggle to lure lizards and frogs.
Copperheads like wooded areas and are most active at night. Sometimes you see them basking in the sun during the day.
Like five of the six venomous snakes in North Carolina, copperheads are pit vipers. They have a distinguishing heat-sensing pit between the eye and nostril on each side of the head. The pits face forward and are used to detect differences in temperature. All pit vipers have vertical, elliptical pupils and most of the scales under the tail are in a single row.
The other snakes you’ll run into have round pupils, no pit and a double row of scales under the tail.
Since most snakes—even the venomous ones—are shy and retiring, a little bit of common sense will help you avoid a bad serpent experience. Remove items such as scrap sheet metal, boards, woodpiles and other debris that are attractive hiding places.
Keep the lawn mowed and areas you frequent cleared out. Don’t walk around barefooted at night when you might accidentally step on a copperhead.
Davidson College (north of Charlotte) has an excellent Web site that will help you identify snakes and provides lots of useful information. Just type: “Davidson College herpetology” into your favorite search engine.